The U.S. Military Academy pressured a retired U.S. lieutenant general to withdraw from speaking at a West Point prayer breakfast after Muslims and atheists complained, Fox News & Commentary has learned.
Retired Lt. Gen. William Boykin was scheduled to deliver a speech at West Point on Feb. 8. But late Monday, the military academy released a statement saying he had decided to withdraw from speaking and would be replaced with another speaker.
However, a source close to the controversy told Fox News & Commentary that Boykin was pressured to withdraw.
“It was very clear they wanted General Boykin to withdraw,” said the source who asked not to be identified. “He asked them to rescind the invitation, but they were reluctant to do that so he said he would take them off the hook.”
Theresa Brinkerhoff, a spokesperson for West Point, told Fox News & Commentary that the U.S. Military Academy “did not decide this for him.”
“After a conversation with our chaplain, Lt. Gen. Boykin decided to withdraw,” Brinkerhoff wrote in an email.
Boykin, a former senior military intelligence officer, had been criticized for speeches he made at evangelical Christian churches where he said that American’s enemy is Satan, that God had put President Bush in the White House and that a Muslim Somali warlord was an idol-worshipper.
He later issued a written statement apologizing and said he didn’t mean to insult Islam.
However, Boykin became a target for atheists and Muslim groups. They launched a campaign to force the military to remove the retired lieutenant general from the West Point prayer event.
“Mr. Boykin’s intolerant views do a disservice to our nation’s longstanding traditions of religious freedom and pluralism and could potentially harm our country’s interests and the security of our troops overseas,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, wrote in a letter to the superintendent of West Point. “By providing a platform associated with West Point, Mr. Boykin’s hate-filled rhetoric would receive a level of credibility and legitimacy it does not deserve.”
Awad called Boykin an Islamophobe.
“It gives Islamophobes a platform at the nation’s most prestigious military academy,” Awad told the Associated Press. “And I doubt that they would invite a KKK speaker and claim that they want to expose the students to a variety of opinions.”
CAIR joined VoteVets.org and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation in protesting Boykin’s speech.
Mikey Weinstein, the president of Military Religious Freedom Foundation heralded the military’s move as a victory and called Boykin a “vile Islamophobe.”
“We are deeply saddened that it took a public outcry of this magnitude to cause Boykin to pull out from this event, likely under pressure from within the Pentagon,” Weinstein said in a press release. “Our outcry must not stop – all individuals within the command structure responsible for inviting this vile Islamophobe must be held accountable via courts martial.”
Boykin told Fox News & Commentary that he was extremely disappointed in what has happened.
“I came under attack because there are liberal groups, Islamic groups and atheist groups that want to shut me down because I have been very open about my concerns about the encroachment of Sharia – or Islamic law,” he said.
Boykin said he planned on delivering a speech about the importance of prayer in a leader’s life.
“It was an ecumenical presentation,” Boykin said. “It had nothing to do with Islam.”
Boykin would not comment on reports that he was pressured to step aside, only to say that he considered the commandant of West Point to be a “good friend of mine – and a very good man.”
Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, was outraged by the decision.
“This has gone too far,” Perkins told Fox News & Commentary. “This is a troubling trend that we are seeing under this administration.”
Under the Obama Administration both Perkins and Franklin Graham were disinvited from speaking at military prayer services.
“When you talk to military leaders on the base, they don’t like this,” Perkins said. “There seems to be pressure coming from within the administration to sweep Christianity off the face of military bases.”
Boykin said he doesn’t believe the Obama administration has stood with the traditional values of the nation and he said the incident at West Point should serve as a wakeup call to Christians.
“The message is that people of faith and conservative Americans are losing our voice to a very well-organized and very well-funded group of very passionate people – those being the atheists and the Muslims,” Boykin said. “They want to change the nature of our culture – and they are succeeding.”
Perkins pointed to the Obama administration’s policies banning Christian prayers at National Cemetery in Houston and a ban on Bibles at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
“It’s time Americans realized that while these orders may not have been signed by the president, this environment has been created by him and his policies,” Perkins said.
Boykin accused the Obama administration of not standing with people of faith – “certainly not people of the Christian faith or Jewish faith.”
“If there has been support in this administration for faith it has been more skewed towards the Islamic faith than anything else,” Boykin said.
Perkins said the biggest and most troubling concern is how Boykin has been treated.
“The man they have disinvited is a true American hero who has spilled his own blood on foreign soil for this country,” Perkins said. “He has done so much to defend the ideals and the freedom that American stands for. Yet his own freedoms – that he fought to protect for others – have been taken from him.”
With reporting from the Associated Press